With the popular Mount LeConte Lodge in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park closed until March, wilderness adventurers still can get away from running water, electricity and thermostats at Charit Creek Lodge.
Charit Creek is on the Cumberland Plateau, just south of the Tennessee-Kentucky border in the 125,000-acre Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. It is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas.
According to Larry McMillan, owner of NN The Woods — which operates Charit Creek Lodge under contract with the National Park Service — there are three trails under five miles that hikers can take to the lodge. Hiking and horseback are the only ways to get there.
There are 11 10-by-10-foot horse stalls and tie-outs. Hay is provided.
“We are nothing as big as LeConte, as most people don’t know we are here,” McMillan said. “We are kind of in the middle of nowhere. ... We are not in it to make it a money-making business. Our goal is just to keep it open.”
At least one building on the property dates back to 1816. It is the oldest building allowed to be used for sleeping quarters by the National Park Service. The only other national parks where wooden cabins are in use are Mount LeConte Lodge and the Phantom Ranch at the Grand Canyon.
Each Charit Creek cabin includes a wood stove, a kerosene lamp, beds and clean linens. On the property are restrooms with showers that are available seasonally. Meals are provided in a separate dining room.
There are two cabins and two lodge rooms, each sleeping up to 12 people.
Some sources suggest the creek’s name was in memory of a young girl named Charity who drowned in it during a flash flood in the 1920s.
In 1960 the farm at Charit Creek was converted into a hunting camp, and a house was extensively modified to create a lodge called Parch Corn Creek Hunting Camp — or the Hog Farm, by locals. Hunting wild boar was the popular event of those using it then.
McMillan noted that Big South Fork had about 650,000 visitors last year, compared to 9 million for the Smokies.
The lack of crowds is a major drawing card for Marietta Slemp of Tucker, Ga.
She and her two sisters, Sharon Shell of Phoenix and Peggy Shell, also of Tucker, make traveling to Charit Creek Lodge an annual event.
“I’ve been going down there at least 10 to 12 years, if not longer,” Slemp said. “It’s the solitude. It’s quiet and away from the city and people.”
As to not having the modern conveniences, “it does not bother me a bit,” she said. “If you have those, then it’s not the same experience.”
The three sisters already have reservations for next October.
Signal Mountain resident Richard Park has visited Charit Creek twice.
“They treated us royally. They took great care of us,” Park said.
For his family it was different staying overnight without the conveniences of home.
“It was a great experience. You freeze to death if you don’t keep the stove going,” he said, recalling that on one trip the temperature gauge outside the cabin showed zero degrees.
While he liked that his grandchildren got to experience life as it would have been 100 years ago, he joked that he may never get his wife to go back.
Another draw for Park is the number of trails in the area.
“You have hiking galore up there,” he said.
While the area around the lodge abounds with great views, waterfalls and rock formations, it also is surrounded by history.
The lodge sits at the bottom of Hatfield Ridge. And near it are the graves of two teenage boys.
The Tackett brothers were being taken care of by an elderly female relative whose house was near the lodge. One day in 1863, the story goes, the lady saw Confederate sympathizers coming toward her house. In an effort to save the boys from being taken away to fight, she instructed them to get under a feather mattress. She then got on top of the mattress and pretended to be sick.
The trick worked, as the visitors left out of fear that they might become ill also. Unfortunately, when the mattress was pulled back, the boys were dead from suffocation.